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posted by The Bangkok Consultant

San Phra Phum

What's with Thailand's Spirit Houses?

At a glance ...

After living in a house for some time, the owner may decide to put a miniature spirit house in a corner of the grounds, where the Chao Tee or ‘spirit of the land' may live. It is very common to see these miniature houses (San Phra Phum) right across Thailand in homes, businesses, hotels and even out on the street. They can be a place to make daily offerings to the guardian spirit that lives there - usually fruit or a glass of juice, especially on holy days. Not everyone can afford their own personal San Phra Phum, so being able to make offerings in a public place is beneficial.

 

They are a shrine to the protective spirit of a place and are usually in the form of a miniature house or temple, usually mounted on a pillar. When new homes are built in Thailand, it is important to find a suitable place in the garden for the spirit house. Selection of the precise spot for this dwelling can only be carried out by a spiritual being such as a monk, fortune-teller or shaman. These ‘special souls' are believed to be able to communicate directly with the other side. A symbolic image of the spirit is carved on a small piece of wood, inside the little house, while the spirit is invited to come and make a home there to protect the property and its residents.

 

Fresh flowers, incense and candles are routinely placed on the small balcony outside and specially prepared food is offered to the spirits on significant occasions, such as the anniversary of the building, birthdays, deaths and the Thai New Year. Asian cultures are known for their superstitions and the worship of spirits. In Thailand, especially in the more rural communities, a belief in the supernatural is a common aspect of daily life. According to Thai spirituality (Karma), what happens in this life is determined not only by our actions in previous lives but also by supernatural forces. It is believed that every place is powerful and has the potential to be dangerous, so it is a good idea always to protect oneself and others from harm, sickness and tragedy.

 

Spirits dwell in every corner and control our luck, our danger and our misfortune. Though many Thai people reject the existence of such entities, they do not disregard them all together. Many Thai superstitions come from ancient Animist beliefs that pre-date Buddhism. Animists believe in non-human entities that reside in animals and other inanimate objects, which possess a spiritual essence. Such religions were once prolific throughout Asia including China, where the worship of spirits, dragons and countless gods are mirrored by similar practices in Thailand and India. Animism encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and material world, and spirits exist not only in humans but also in some other animals, plants, rocks and geographical features such as mountains and rivers.

 

They even include the natural environment such as thunder, the wind and even shadows. Animism explains that for every concept; every object; every word there exists a spirit, each spirit with its own character. Animism can be integrated into any religion, meaning that anything worshiped is spiritualized. By some, it is considered the world’s oldest religion, though perhaps not a religion at all but a method of natural consciousness that even the animals, plants and the weather follow.

 

This article was taken from my book, A Learning Curve.

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